Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the Law, but that which comes through faith in Christ .... Philippians 3:8-9a
When the Roman city of Pompeii was being excavated, the mummified body of a woman was found.
The way her body lay told a tragic story. Her feet, like so many others of that doomed city, were pointed toward the city gate and what seemed to be the best route to safety. Yes, her feet were pointed forward, but the rest of her was directed backward.
That's right. Even as ashes and rocks rained down upon her, even as a poisonous cloud swept toward her, this woman's arms were stretching, straining, struggling, striving backward. She had dropped her bag of pearls. She could not bring herself to keep going without those pearls, and so she died, frozen in an attitude of confusion. Her death told a clear story of her priorities.
She is hardly alone.
Scripture records the story of Lot's wife. By God's instruction and warning, she, her husband, and daughters were fleeing the doomed cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. To His advice on escape, the Lord had added only one warning: "Don't look back. Whatever you do, don't look back" (See Genesis 19).
Scripture doesn't record the sounds, the sights, or the smells that accompanied the leveling of those ancient cities. Nobody knows if there were claps of thunder, great explosions, or the smell of sulfur in the air. We do know Lot's wife couldn't resist turning around and taking one last look. Her death told of her priorities.
We could continue. Look at Samson who died blind and chained between the pillars of a temple dedicated to a false god. He was there because he disobeyed God and couldn't keep a secret from the wrong type of girl. See the bodies of Ananias and Sapphira being carried out of the new assembly of believers because they lied to the Lord. Like the others, their deaths speak a clear message of their priorities.
In contrast to these we have mentioned, consider the martyrdom of the apostles. A brief denial of Jesus, a bit of incense offered to an idol, an oath of allegiance made to the emperor could have spared them pain, persecution and a terrible end. They died, but their deaths became a witness to the church: a source of inspiration for those who would come after.
They wanted the world to know they followed the Savior, who gave His life so that we might be forgiven and saved, who rose from the dead so we might live forever.
The disciples were not alone in making such a singular witness. Last month 21 young men were murdered by ISIS. A close examination of the video shows the last words spoken by many of these men was "Lord, Jesus Christ."
Their deaths have told the world of their priorities.
May ours do the same.
THE PRAYER: Dear Lord, in life and in death may all I do point people to Jesus whose priority was to do the work whereby I am saved. In His Name I pray. Amen.
In Christ I remain His servant and yours,
Pastor Ken Klaus
Speaker emeritus of The Lutheran Hour®
Lutheran Hour Ministries